Day By Day

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Rise of Bourgeois Dignity

Around the beginning of the eighteenth century the world changed for good. It started in Holland and England, and spread from there. Slowly at first, then with ever greater speed and consequence the condition of an ever increasing proportion of the world's population became significantly better and better. Ever since scholars have been trying to understand what happened and why. The latest such attempt is a six-volume work by Dierdre McCloskey, the second volume has just been published under the title Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World.

What changed, she argues, was peoples' attitudes toward the accumulation of wealth.  
At the beginning of the 18th century, people in the Netherlands and Britain began talking about commerce as a good thing — a novelty at that time. They gave dignity to the bourgeoisie. And that drove capitalism, giving birth to the modern world.

What changed was the sociology. That is, what changed was the attitude of the rest of the society toward businesspeople, and with that new attitude came a change in government policy. It was suddenly all right — most clearly in the most bourgeois country on earth, the U.S.A. — to get rich and to innovate.
 It's an interesting thesis, one that rings true with me. This is an idea that I plan to explore.

You can read an interview with the author here.

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